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Before 25 January, stage set for the next battle

The third anniversary of the 25 January is exposing fault lines in the official narrative of 30 June

Amira Howeidy, Thursday 23 Jan 2014
Tahrir 3 july
An aerial view shows protesters against ousted President Mohamed Morsi in Tahrir Square in Cairo July 3, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 3108

It is almost a week since Egyptians voted in support of a new constitution in a referendum whose results are being hailed as an overwhelming public endorsement of the political order that followed the army’s removal of Mohamed Morsi on 3 July amid mass protests against his rule.

It was the third constitution-related plebiscite and the sixth time the electorate has gone to the polls in three years, and under three different regimes.

Today, as the third anniversary of the 25 January uprising approaches, few are looking in the direction of Tahrir Square, epicentre of the events that led to Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow. Instead, it is the figure of Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, minister of defence and army commander-in-chief, casting the longest shadow over post-revolution Egypt.

As the fourth year since Mubarak’s ouster begins a single question looms: will El-Sisi be the next president?

For months anonymous “sources” have flooded the media with stories about the general’s ever-evolving intentions. But rather than enlightening the public, the often conflicting information contained in these “leaks” suggests far more uncertainty in decision making circles than meets the eye.

“I don’t think there’s a consensus within state institutions over the issue. The decision and its consequences aren’t that simple,” says Hassan Nafaa, columnist and professor of political science at Cairo University.

Interim president Adly Mansour has yet to announce the order and dates of the coming elections though most commentators now expect the presidential poll to precede any parliamentary vote, reversing the order set out the 3 July political road map.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere ahead of the fourth anniversary of the 25 January uprising which falls seven months into the military’s removal of Mohamed Morsi, is as febrile as ever.

Tuesday’s newspaper headlines dramatised the sense of apprehension. The privately owned Al-Watan proclaimed “El-Qassam and Israeli bombs in the heart of Cairo”. El-Shorouk opted for “Egypt enters a state of extreme alert ahead of 25 January” while Al-Masry Al-Youm announced: “25 Jan, the interior ministry coordinates with the revolutionaries and warns the Brotherhood”.

So what will happen on the day?

Many revolutionaries expect that rather than coordination the authorities will attempt to exploit the symbolism of Tahrir Square and turn the anniversary into a love fest for the police and military. Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim has already called on Egyptians to congregate in city squares to mark the anniversary next Saturday, seemingly blind to the irony that what he is asking the public to commemorate is an uprising sparked by the brutal practices of the ministry he now heads. The uprising began on the 25 January, National Police Day, to protest systematic violations committed by the police.

The government adopted the same strategy on the second anniversary of the November 2011 clashes in Mohamed Mahmoud Street when police killed 47 protestors. It can hardly be said to have been a success. A hastily erected monument in Tahrir commissioned by the government to commemorate the victims was torn down within 24 hours by angry protestors.

According to the official news agency MENA, 260,000 policemen, 180 battalions and 500 combat groups will be deployed to secure Saturday’s celebrations.

Should the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamic alliance decide to take to Tahrir clashes with the police are guaranteed.

The influence of the revolutionary bloc has long been on the wane. The Way of the Revolution Front is one of only a handful of groups actively preparing to mark the anniversary. In Cairo plans for two marches, beginning in Mohandiseen’s Mustafa Mahmoud mosque and the press syndicate in down town Cairo, converging on Tahrir, are underway.

The Front is still discussing possible coordination with El-Dostour party’s youth wing and former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi’s Popular Current.

“There is agreement we must steer clear of all forms of violence on the day,” says Mohamed Othman of the Way of the Revolution Front. “We are preparing for every possible scenario, including having to avoid Tahrir altogether and end the marches by Qasr El-Nil Bridge. Nobody knows what might happen.”

It is unclear whether El-Sisi supporters such as the Kamel Gemeilak campaign, which is calling for his nomination as a presidential candidate, and Masr Balady, a political grouping that contains, among others, former interior minister Ahmed Gamal El-Din and Mubarak-era Mufti Ali Gomaa, are mobilising for a rally in Tahrir. The Salafist Nur Party has said it will not be taking part in the celebrations to avoid possible violence.

Since 3 July there have been concerted attempts to co-opt each and every occasion to reinforce the legitimacy of the post-Morsi political order and establish it as the outcome of the 30 June “revolution”. It is a narrative that is looking ever more confused as the anniversary of the 25 January uprising approaches. For months now the loudest proponents of 30 June have been attacking the January uprising. They denounce it as a Brotherhood-Hamas plot to destabilise Egypt, and demonise its leaders as traitors in the pay of foreign powers.

The official storyline tries to be more nuanced, portraying the 30 June revolution as an extension – and correction - of 25 January, though the ongoing prosecution of the January uprising’s most prominent activists has exposed the fault-lines in this particular narrative. Alaa Abdel-Fatah, a prominent blogger and political activist, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, both leaders in the 6th April opposition group, have been in prison since November facing charges of violating the new protest law. This week it was announced that Abdel-Fattah would face an additional charge of insulting the judiciary. Political scientist Amr Hamzawy, activist Mostafa, El-Naggar, Morsi and a number of other jailed Brotherhood leaders, are among the 25 co-defendants in the case.

The changing atmosphere is forcing a shift in political activism. According to the Revolution Front’s Othman serious consideration is being given to fielding a candidate to represent the “revolutionary bloc” – regularly denounced as fifth columnists by the media – in the presidential elections. “There can’t be just one bloc advocating El-Sisi,” he says.

Sabahi has already declared his willingness to stand against El-Sisi. Speculation is rife over whether Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh, leader of the Strong Egypt Party, will also throw his hat in the ring. There is little doubt that El-Sisi will win if he stands. But, says Othman, the presidential race offers an opportunity to forge a revolutionary alliance and give it a voice that, however small, “will break the mental image” of El-Sisi which is being marketed to the public.

This isn’t the time to take political battles to the street which is what the Brotherhood is doing, adds Othman. “The public isn’t ready or interested in that.

This article was first published in Ahram Weekly

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24-01-2014 08:41am
what exactly as the point of the revolution? Was it to just ouster Mubarak? Was mubarak stopping Egypt from becoming the next India or China? Really? He was the reason why the summers were too hot and winters too cold? Whoever is in power, in Egypt, the ultimate responsibility for the success & prosperity and well being of Egyptians remains in the hands of EVERY Egyptian. A new president won't help Egypt, but a new Egyptian will. One that doesn't put religion over common sense, one that doesn't break laws because he's in a high position and can do so, one that doesn't put the blame on others because of his own failures. There are problems in Egypt that ONLY Egyptians can fix. A president cannot fix them: a) Driving - why dont you all learn to drive properly and just obey road signs. b) Education - Unless you intend to educate yourselves somehow, you will be slaves to someone who has more money or power than you. Mubarak, or any President cannot educate you. c) Killing others over religion - So you hate Shias, you kill them, you hate Copts, you kill them. Now, forget the fact that their religion bothers you. If you loved Egypt more than you hated them, Egypt would flourish. The costs of rebuilding bombed out buildings comes from state money most cases - is this something you think we can afford to be paying for?? d) Health - The best president in the world CANNOT bless you with good health. If you want to go and eat food with Samna Balady (Ghhee butter) - that's your own problem. Dont blame the government. e) Police training. Egyptian police seem to shot and then ask questions later. Someone has to explain to them that its the other way around. f) Loving Egyptians Saying you love Egypt and hating your countryman is pointless. He is what makes Egypt, Egypt. Stop treating yourselves , and the worth of others based on how much you have, or how much power or prestige you have. you need a revolution to change who you are, not the president.
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25-01-2014 01:07am
Re: coined
Sorry to say that although you correctly identified many problems, your approach to solving them isn't completely correct. There is nothing wrong with Egyptians the problem is with Egypt. Egyptians outside of Egypt (US, Canada, etc.) do completely fine. Education isn't a problem because Egyptians don't want to learn it's because the Ministry of Education is terrible (a start would be providing enough funding to have class sizes of less than 50). The driving is the same problem, the reason nobody follows the rules is because you can get away with it. Outside of Egypt, all Egyptians will follow the rules because there is law and order. This is the responsibility of the ministry of interior, police, security services. This needs to be coordinated with a proper judiciary system which means if your rights are violated you can have your day in court against the police officer, etc. And sectarianism and terrorism is a problem in many places. It's the responsibility of the government to provid
24-01-2014 05:40pm
this is awesome
U touched on every point I've been thinking. Sometimes it's a breath of fresh air seeing reasonable responses to these articles. However u did fail to mention the lack of sanitation. Reason I mention that is b/c it directly correlates w/your claim that u are the only one who can directly impact your health. I respectfully disagree w/that notion b/c it's things like poor sanitation & greenhouse gases that cause certain illnesses like cancer. The government needs to develop a sanitation department to clean up the streets & more importantly the Nile. There also needs to be a car inspection system to make sure that a lot of these vehicles that are on the road are regularly inspected to reduce exhaust emmissions. Just wanted to add those 2 points to a very well written post.

24-01-2014 01:28am
The revolutionary bloc
The police state fears education; that is why it wants to arrest Amr Hamzawy and Emad Shahin. A democracy can only exist if multiple points of views are tolerated. The purge of the universities is obviously a dangerous sign. Some defenders of the current repression would support book burning if the authorities began doing that. If the revolutionary bloc runs a candidate, the candidate is going to be attacked on mindless, not rational, grounds. But still, it is a good idea to run one.
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